I have long wondered about the way John 19:14-18 seems to lead the
reader to identify Jesus' crucifiers as the Jews/High-Priests rather
than Pilate's soldiers:
* 19:14 And it was the preparation of the Passsover, about the sixth
hour, and he says to the Jews, Behold your king!
* 19:15 Then they shouted, Away Away! Crucify him! Pilate says to
them (AUTOIS), Shall I crucify your king? The high-priests answered, We
have no king but Caesar!
* 19:16 Then he delivered him to them (AUTOIS) that he be crucified;
so they took Jesus;
* 19:17 And bearing his own cross he went out to the place called
Skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha,
* 19:18 where they crucified him along with two others on either side
and Jesus in the middle.
The crux is this -- who are the AUTOIS to whom Pilate delivers Jesus in
19:16a, who also then crucify him in 19:18. Taking 19:14-19:16 in
sequence, the natural reading is that the AUTOIS in v16 has the same
antecedent as the AUTOIS in v15. Thus, AUTOIS in 19:16a is the same
group of Jews and High Priests who were shouting to Pilate in 19:15 for
Jesus to be crucified.
Raymond Brown argues that this is not the case, since John's readers all
knew that, of course, it was the soldiers who crucified Jesus, so the
writer simply made a "careless mistake" in his pronoun antecedents in
19:16 (Death of the Messiah, vol I, p 858). I now believe Brown is wrong
and the natural reading of AUTOIS in 19:16 as the Jews and High Priests
is exactly what the writer intended.
1. Working back from 19:16 to the beginning of the trial before Pilate
in 18:28, the plural pronoun AUTOI appears 9 times:
* 18:28 ...and they (AUTOI) did not enter the praetorium that they
not be defiled from eating the Passover
* 18:29 then Pilate went out to them (PROS AUTOUS) and said What
charge do you bring...
* 18:31 then Pilate said to them (AUTOIS), You take him and judge
* 18:38 ...and he says to them (AUTOIS) I find no fault in him
* 19:04 ... and he says to them (AUTOIS), look I bring him out to you
so you know that I find no fault in him
* 19:05 ...and he says to them (AUTOIS), look, the man.
* 19:06 ...Pilate says to them (AUTOIS), you take and crucify him...
* 19:15 ...Pilate says to them (AUTOIS), shall I crucify your king...
* 19:16 ...then he delivered him to them (AUTOIS) that he be
crucified; so they took Jesus
2. Without exception, the referents for the first 8 of these 9 pronouns
are variously "the high-priests" (hOI ARXIEREIS) or the high-priests and
"the officers" (hOI hUPHRETAI) or simply "the Jews" (hOI IOUDAIOI). The
officers (18:12) and high-priests (19:21) are both identified as being
"of the Jews" (TWN IOUDAIWN). To ensure that his readers know exactly
who "the Jews" are, the author has Pilate speak to Jesus in 18:35 where
he identifies them as "your nation" (TO EQNOS TO SON).
3. The first instance of AUTOI in 18:28, the only nominative case, is
redundant to the grammar of the sentence, but it serves the purpose of
alerting the reader that the AUTOI bringing Jesus to Pilate are limited
to those who were concerned to keep from defilement so they could eat
the Passover, ie the IOUDAIOI and ARXIEREIS. Thus the reader may now
mentally infer that this group does not include any of the Roman cohort
who had earlier worked with the Jews to arrest Jesus in 18:3-12. I also
see this as a subtle flag to the reader to follow the ensuing trail of
AUTOI's to their conclusion in 19:16. Note that the writer never
explicitely uses AUTOI to refer to the soldiers, here or elsewhere.
4. In all the rest of these instances, Pilate is the actor or speaker
who in each case is interacting with or speaking to the group of
IOUDAIOI and ARCHIEREI. Throughout the entire trial/crucifixion
narrative Pilate never interacts with or speaks to the soldiers. The
only characters Pilate interacts or converses with are the group of
IOUDAIOI and ARXIEREIS, and Jesus himself. There is no reason for the
reader to think the referent of the last AUTOIS in this sequence to be
any different than the previous eight.
5. At first glance, 19:23 seems to change direction and charge the
soldiers with the actual crucifixion:
19:23 - Then then soldiers, when they had crucified (OTE ESTAURWSAN)
Jesus, they took his garments...
However the writer leaves ambiguity in his unusual syntax of hOS + OUN +
subject + subordinate hOTE clause + verb. He could have used an aorist
participle instead of the hOTE clause -- hOI OUN STRATIWTAI STAURWSANTES
TON IHSOUN ELABON TA hIMATIA... He has used this syntax before after hOS
+ OUN + subject in 6:14, 12:3, 18:3, and 19:13, and that would have
unambiguously identified the soldiers as the crucifiers. As 19:23 now
stands however, the construction is similar to 19:31 where the subject
of the sentence is NOT the subject of the subordinate EPEI clause. Thus,
is it not possible to read 19:23 as follows?
"then, when they [= the Jews?] had crucified him, the soldiers took his
Tentative Conclusion: I do not believe the writer would make a "careless
mistake" in pronoun referents when he came to craft his account of what
is admittedly the climax of his whole previous narrative. I see that he
artfully and deliberately leads the reader from 18:2 onward to mentally
identify the referent of the ninth and final AUTOIS in 19:16 as "the
Jews and High Priests" just like all the prior eight, and definitely not
as "the soldiers" who are bookended on either side of the crucifixion
act. Yet I also see that he refrains from explicitly saying hOI IOUDAOI
crucified Jesus; instead he leaves the reader a subtle trail of AUTOIS's
to follow. Can we not then read 19:23 also as a followup wink to the
reader, "oh yes, how could I forget that the soldiers actually did the
awful deed - or was it somebody else?". Perhaps he does not want to risk
provoking his readers to reject his story outright by openly
contradicting other extant passion narrative traditions. Rather, he
implicates the Jews as the crucifiers of Jesus by a strategy of
misdirection somewhat similar to the way he handles Jesus' baptism by
John (it never happened) and the last Passover (it wasn't) supper. That
is, he suggestively leads his readers to mentally conclude for
themselves that the Jews crucified Jesus, either by themselves or
possibly working with the soldiers, without explicitly saying so in his
carefully nuanced narrative.
This conclusion troubles me for many reasons, but I don't see any way
around it. Easter and Passover seasons are soon here, and I would
appreciate any insight that others might have on this issue. I apologize
for the length of this post, I have kept it as sparse as possible.
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